Emory Valley Service Unit in the Halls and Powell communities is well-known for their incredible volunteer support and super-fun events. We chatted with their service unit manager, Ginger, who has been the service unit manager for seven years!
She is also a troop administrator of two troops, and and in her free time, she helps facilitate book clubs in Powell, Farragut, Sevierville, and Gibbs. She shared some of what EVSU is doing to recruit and support volunteers, and some ideas of how to help a new troop be as successful as possible!
What type of things has Emory Valley done differently in recent GIrl Scout recruitment?
Our troops are taking on more leadership! They took on the tasks of scheduling times for us to visit schools, making posters to appeal to new leaders, making starter kits, offering special interest sub-troops, and planning SWAPS for girls to make.
We take a team approach to recruitment so it’s not so overwhelming on any particular group. To most of us, Girl Scout leadership is an extra full-time job on top of our real job and family.
What’s in the new troop startup kit? What do you hope it accomplishes?
The kits are include some basic supplies (crayons, scissors, glue, etc.) a who-to-call list, FAQs, Girl Scout vocabulary, and sample meeting ideas.
The initial cost of a troop is huge to most of our volunteers. I remember my first Daisy year and thinking the amount I spent was unreal. Being a volunteer is expensive and I don’t think new volunteers understand that until after they commit, and if we lose them – that might be why.
We hope the kits lessen the initial burden and to help new leaders feel supported.
What are special interest sub-troops? That sounds interesting!
Our Special Interest Subtroops (SIS) are small, interest-focused troops! There’s Sister Scouts book club, Cooking (Junior and Cadette levels), Harry Potter (Junior), Cosplay (Cadette and up), Juliette Low, and we’re starting a Community Service subtroop.
These subtroops are nice because the girls make friends with other Girl Scouts with common interests. It’s amazing to see the relationships that are forming in the “subtroops” and each subtroop has a “leader;” my Senior troop runs the Harry Potter subtroop! The key is keeping the groups small. I’m also considering moving Journeys over to a similar format.
Mentors are available at a new volunteer’s convenience – especially at cookie time – since so many questions fall outside of council business hours.
Most of us volunteers have to tackle our Girl Scout work after the kids have gone to bed. Mentors are there to help with badge questions and give ideas of what to do with the girls.
A lot of our new volunteers don’t attend service unit meetings, and we hope having a mentor will encourage them to attend since they’ll know someone there!
Cookie help is the main role of mentors – this is the hardest part of the year.
How did you decide to set up these mentoring relationships?
New volunteers told us they felt lost. They’re recruited and then let loose with all these little girls and cookies. Because they feel lost, they don’t attend service unit meetings or reach out for help. I try to keep an open line of contact with them and meet up as much as I can, but we have a lot of troops!
I began hoping that other volunteers would help in mentoring new troops, giving them more TLC than I could offer. I want our older and more seasoned volunteers to buddy up with a new troop!
As new troops form, I’ll look at the location and personality of the volunteer and match them with a good mentor! I usually have coffee with a new leader and establish that line of contact. I’d ask a mentor to come along and see if they fit.
What would you say are the most important things for a new troop to do?
The girls just need to come together for 45 minutes, have a snack, do a craft, and work on a part of the Girl Scout Law. Develop the social part of Girl Scouts first and the badges/program will happen.
What are some of your recruitment do’s and don’ts?
My main DON’T is don’t keep recruiting a person that looks on the edge of committing – walk away. It’ll do a new forming troop more harm than good. Once a potential volunteer stops communicating (ignoring texts, calls, and emails) then walk away quickly.
If a new troop volunteer starts feeling lost or overwhelmed, what would you suggest they do?
Take a deep breath – this is an overwhelming volunteer position. They must look at what’s overwhelming them so much and try to find a cause. If it’s a disruptive parent, then they must be dealt with. If it’s too much meeting content, then cut back. If it’s too expensive, ask parents to contribute more dues or to bring items. If it’s too time-consuming, then put out a sign-up sheet. If it’s not their thing – then admit it, and ask for another volunteer.
Say a troop needs more help from parents/adults. How would you suggest the volunteers approach them?
Adults will normally step up and volunteer once they see that another adult is taking the main role. I’d have volunteers do sign-up sheets for snacks and crafts, and that becomes a way other parents can help. If adults/parents don’t help, then I typically suggest they wait in a separate room during the meeting, or ask them to drop off only. Non-helping adults can distract the girls and activities.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m so happy with the way EVSU has built our leadership and program. We take a team approach and everyone feels accepted. I take time to visit with troops and get to know them. Also, EVSU works hard at tearing down the service unit walls. We welcome other areas to join us, plan with us and be a part of our teams. We have leaders in other areas that are very much a part of our service unit team.
We are working on the new concept of SIS (our special interest subtroops) and are very excited to expand this to more community service work and other special interest projects. Also, EVSU is retaining girls! We have a large group of Cadettes, which is wonderful!